Susan Kathrine Ritz asked me to blog this prologue to a story shes working on. If you enjoy it, I'll post the whole book, chapter by chapter.
The Pirates of Bair Island
The Ophelia turned her prow toward the wall of black clouds ahead and sailed all propellers on full into the heart of them. Behind, the crew could hear Herr Drosselmyer’s guns blazing, and canon shot skimmed their prow. Ahead, the roar of the hurricane enveloped them, along with the pounding rains and palm fronds and other detritus picked up by the storm from the islands below. A bamboo hut, its grass roof flapping madly, went spinning by, smashing to bits on Ophelia’s massive balloon and ripping a hole through her port jib. The ship’s captain called to the crew to trim the mainsheets, hoping this would halt the sudden oscillating and broach, but the loss of rudder kept Ophelia slewing round uncontrollably.
The captain clung to the helm, gripping the wheel with all his strength, his feet in danger of lifting off the deck from the 200-mile an hour wind gusts. He shouted to Kristina behind him to lash herself to the rigging, lest she be blown clear off Ophelia, and fall to the raging sea far below. They were only three hundred feet up, but he hoped that their continued steep climb would somehow put them above the storm. However, the intense air pressure of the gale was causing the ship to loose its dynamic lift. Captain Robert loosed more ballast and prayed they had enough gas for the necessary rise. As long as the balloon didn’t hit one of the flying palm trees, which would pierce their helium dirigible like a lance and ignite the gasses and everyone on board into a giant ball of fire, they might survive.
Behind them, the raging storm and screaming winds had swallowed up the sound of guns. Likely Drosselmyer quit his pursuit and turned back to the 19th century. Why risk his own ship when nature’s fury would accomplish his goal with no danger to him?
Unfortunately, the Ophelia had no such option, for to stay in 1889 would surely have meant death at the canons of Drosselmyer’s much faster airship. How had Drosselmyer got the jump on them that way? Captain Robert wondered, dumping the remaining ballast and hoped that would end this damnable sinking. They’d jumped out of that time too quickly, without the proper research, and so hadn’t known that they were transporting into a future storm.
Their only hope now was to transport again, to another day when there was no hurricane bashing this part of the Pacific. The captain gave the signal to start the time machine, but nothing happened.
“Now Nathan! Send us now, I don’t care to when, just get us out of this wretched storm!” The words whipped away from his mouth and Nathan only shook his head and shouted something back. Something the Captain couldn’t understand. It sounded like “misting.”
“I’d hardly call this ‘misting’!” Captain Robert shouted back. “It’s a bloody storm of great magnitude, man. Open your eyes. We are all doomed if we stay here.”
“Not ‘misting’ captain,” Nathan had grabbed hold of the center rigging and now he was being blown horizontal by the gale. “I said ‘missing’. The time machine is missing!”
“But we just had it a moment ago!” The captain was having his own struggle with remaining perfectly perpendicular. “Did it blow overboard? Where are Daniel and Magdalene?”
Just at that moment an especially virulent gust blasted across the deck and Ophelia tipped sideways, her gondola wrenching wildly, like a fish at the end of a line. Daniel flew by, howling with fear or exhilaration, it wasn’t readily apparent which, and disappeared into the swirling blackness around them. Robert could see Nathan’s fingers loosening their hold and his mouth shouting something in reply, but all he heard was “gone” or “goner.” The captain didn’t know if he was referring to the time machine or to Daniel, but just after that Nathan went the way of Dan, and disappeared into the great beyond as well.
“Goner indeed.” The captain muttered angrily. This mission was going all to heck. It seemed unlikely that he’d be able to save them now, especially with half his hands already overboard. Behind him, his dear wife had ruthlessly tied herself to rigging and ropes, her dress whipping about her legs, her hair a wild mass of moon-colored curls. If only he could reach her so that they might at least be together for the end.
Robert tried to reposition his hands so that he could reach out to Kristina. He felt his feet leaving contact with the deck and soon he was aloft as well, anchored only by a single fierce grip on the wheel, which as it rotated from side to side, flung him off one side of the ship and then the other. He tried to use the movement of the wheel to stretch himself across the deck to Kristina, reaching out as far as he could with the other arm. She too was reaching as far as her knotted ropes would allow. But their arms simply weren’t long enough to bridge Ophelia’s deck.
Suddenly, a bolt of lightening flashed across the sky lighting the whole tragic scene in bright relief. It struck the gondola and cracked it down the center. The ship began to break apart, with Captain Robert on one half, and Kristina on the other.
“My love, we are going down!” Kristina called to him. And Robert was proud to see that she showed no fear of her impending death.
“You will always be my one and only!” Robert called back to her.
“But what of the children? Who will take them now? I fear for their futures.” Kristina let just one sad tear for each little girl, slide down her cheek. Wiping them quickly away before the Captain, her husband, should see.
“Princess, you mustn’t worry about them. I already arranged that my sister would take care of them if ever we are lost during one of our missions.”
“Your sister?” Kristina struggled a bit harder at the ropes that she’d tied so tightly they now bound her to the crumbling ship. “I’m not sure I trust you sister with our darlings, my love. And you didn’t even consult me.”
Robert thought he might have heard just the slightest sound of condemnation in her tone, which under the circumstances felt a bit unfair.
“Well, I really don’t know what I can do about it now, Precious. She is our only living relative in their time . . . “ His hand was slipping; he wasn’t sure how much longer he could hang on to the gondola, which itself was attached to the dirigible by only a few frayed cords. Their fate was sealed—his sister would have to do.
“Alas!” Kristina cried, for her children, for her husband, and perhaps for her sister-in-law. With that, another bolt of lightening flashed across the deck of the Ophelia, and the vessel that once had been a noble and daring time-traveling airship lost all buoyancy and fell to the mercy of the blackened swirl of nature’s greatest destructive force, taking all remaining souls with her.